The metaphor of faith as a journey has been employed often over the last few weeks as our local church has worked through our GROW series, aimed at building emotional resilience in our life of faith. Peter Scazzero, whose resources on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality we are using in sermons and small groups, says that is because following Christ, like a journey, involves "movement, action, stops and starts, detours, delays and trips into the unknown." This week we looked at "Hitting the Wall" or what the monastics called the Dark Night of the Soul. Our studies are helping us to see how major negative circumstances are a normal and necessary part of the human maturing process. But if people are able to continue on and through the wall, they find something new. An inner journey of discovering woundedness, parental pre-programming and the effect of our own wrong choices can actually be an opportunity for transformation. Our pastor John, who has experienced major personal tragedy himself, said in the sermon that his 'Big Claim' is that "major pain is a major opportunity for personal growth, and the major learning is that God is present with us even when we don’t feel it....the message of Christianity is resurrection, but it comes after the cross. The best God has to offer us comes though struggle and tragedy. We have to journey through the wall."
Having hit a few walls myself, I know this is right, but the hard truth is that you don't feel it at the time. All you feel is fear, pain, and loneliness. As we have worked through this material, I was reminded of Bruce Wilkinson's little parable "The Dream Giver" which points up some of the landscape of hard times in our faith journey. His hero is a present day pilgrim called Ordinary, whose journey is one of discovering how he is actually a unique Somebody to God. The Dream Giver chronicles that journey and connects with the obstacles and opportunities that confront us as twenty-first century pilgrims.
The journey into the unknown first took Ordinary to an uncomfortable place where doubt filled his mind and an invisible wall of fear and uncertainty stopped him from taking any more steps. Although tempted to turn round and head back to familiar ground, he received words of encouragement from the Dream Giver (God) that filled him with fresh courage and hope. Secondly, he found himself in a wide and hazy wasteland where hunger, thirst and weariness made him call out for help. But no answer came, though he did find a spring and some strange-tasting fruit. He stumbled through the sandy waste, feeling lost and alone. From a reedy tree, a woman named Faith remind him of the fruit and the spring, but he was too depressed to understand. Then as she headed on across the desert, he realised that while he had been with her, he had felt just a little more positive and hopeful than before and decided to follow her. Thirdly Ordinary was confronted by a battle ground –the Valley of the Giants. Just like the apostle Paul, he found that Huge Adversaries like Unbelief, Poverty, Sickness, Dishonesty, Prejudice and Rejection attacked him physically, emotionally and spiritually. The only weapons he had were Truths he had picked up along the way – but amazingly he found that these were effective in defeating the forces intent on stopping him. At the end of the journey he could see that these "walls" he had hit had been means by which he had learned new truth and found new courage, even at times when he felt utterly alone. These images of fear, isolation and opposition represent many of the seemingly insuperable challenges that we face on the road. And the parable promises sanctuary and hope as we journey through those walls.
One wise man said:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1: 2 - 4)Another put it this way:
"We are all faced with great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as impossible situations." (Lee Iacocca)
With perseverance and faith I pray we can discover the difference.
To Chew Over: Oswald Chambers says trials are not to teach us something but to get us to unlearn something. Can you relate to that?
"Others may be between a rock and a hard place.
But God's chosen ones are always between
THE Rock and a hard place."